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Advance Directive vs. Living Will: Which One Do You Need?

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Advanced Medical Directives are a vital part of your financial and estate planning. We often get asked to explain the difference in an advance directive vs living will. We will explain the difference and help you understand why they are important.

What is an Advance Directive?

The Advanced medical directives let family members know what medical treatment you would want, or allow someone to make medical decisions for you, in the event you cannot express your wishes yourself. If you don’t have an advanced medical directive, medical care providers must prolong your life using artificial means, if necessary. With today’s technology, physicians can sustain you for days and weeks (if not months or even years).

There are three types of advanced medical directives, and each state allows only a certain type or maybe all three types. You may find that one, two, or all three types are necessary to carry out all of your wishes for medical treatment. So check with your state to make sure you now what is required, and make sure all documents are consistent. You can download your state-specific advance directives here.

Advance Directive vs Living Will

An advance directive is a broad category of legal instructions you may set up for your healthcare. A living will is a document that falls into the category of advance directives. Therefore, a living will is a type of advance directive. Other types of advance directives include: durable power of attorney (aka health care proxy), do not resuscitate order, and organ donation form.

Types of Advance Medical Directives

1. Living Will. A living will allows you to approve or decline certain types of medical care, even if you will die as a result of that choice. In most states, living wills take effect only under certain circumstances, such as terminal injury or illness. Generally, one can be used only to decline medical treatment that “serves only to postpone the moment of death.” In those states that do not allow living wills, you may still want to have one to serve as evidence of your wishes. NOTE: A living will is different than a last will and testament.

2. Durable Power of Attorney for Health Care. A durable power of attorney for health care, which is also known as a health-care proxy in some states, allows you to appoint a representative to make medical decisions for you. You decide how much power your representative will or won’t have.

3. Do Not Resuscitate Order. A Do Not Resuscitate Order or DNR order is a doctor’s order that tells medical personnel not to perform CPR if you go into cardiac arrest. There are two types of Do Not Resuscitate Orders. One is effective only while you are hospitalized. The other is used while you are outside the hospital.

4. Organ Donation Form. In most states, the advance directive form should have a section for specifying whether or not you wish to donate your organs upon your death. If not, you can simply write in your wishes in the comments section or in a letter of intent. Make sure you check with your state to get the details on how to express your wishes on this important matter.

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